When I was growing up, my mother and sister loved to watch Mr. Ed, the TV show about the talking horse. I have a memory of coming home from school and finding them on the couch in a darkened living room with the theme song playing: “A horse is a horse of course of course…” with my mother singing along. At the end she sang, “you never heard of a talking horse? Well listen to this!” Then she pointed at my sister who belted out, “I AM MR. ED!”
It’s a funny memory but with profound implications! You see, the word for “witness” in Hebrew is “ed”. Ordinarily, we go around thinking that the “I” is the character in the story- the one who comes home from school, the one who sings the song. But the song tells us- the “I” is actually the “ed”- the witness, the conscious presence that is aware of the song, the singing, the living room, and the character who is singing. But to be aware of the awareness takes a special effort. It’s not difficult, but it’s subtle. It’s a kind of effortless effort.
When you look at a painting, you are actually looking at a visual design of paint overlaid on a canvas. But when you look at the painting, how often are you aware of the canvas? You are looking right at it, but the mind doesn’t tend to focus on it. You see the design.
What happens when you remind yourself that you are also looking at the canvas? As your mind holds the awareness of the canvas in addition to the design you may notice that it becomes still. Now, try being aware of your awareness. You might say to yourself, “hineini”- which just means “here I am” or “I am present”. What happens?
We tend to look for G-d or Peace on the level of the painting. We want to change the painting into a better picture. But all along, That Which We Seek is already inherent in the canvas. Become aware of awareness, and the shape of your thoughts and feelings will come to reflect your inner depth, changing the “painting” of your character from the deepest level, rather than merely rearranging things on the surface.
But how do you maintain this constantly? How can your awareness’s awareness of awareness be more than fleeting?
There is a story of Reb Yaakov Yitzhak, the Seer of Lublin. When he was a young disciple of his master Reb Shmelke, his rebbe imposed a certain responsibility on him. Reb Shmelke told Reb Yaakov Yitzhak that he should be constantly watchful to make sure that Reb Shmelke never lost is deveikus- his constant bond of spiritual rapture with the One. He should watch his master especially during the activity of Talmudic debate, when his intellectual arguing could distract him from the Divine. If he noticed his master losing it, he should gently touch is gloves to remind him. Reb Yaakov Yitzhak reported that he never had to touch his master’s gloves even once.
Why would that master give his disciple such a task, if in fact he never needed his disciple’s help? Of course, it was to help his disciple remain mindful himself! By watching the deveikus of his rebbe, he was also able to remain in deveikus.
To remain present constantly and live from your own inherent freedom, from the wellspring of wisdom and peace that springs from your own awareness, you have to be tremendously selfish. It takes a heroic effort to constantly arouse deveikus, moment by moment. But if you know that you are not just doing it for yourself, that you in fact must do it in order to serve others, it becomes not just about you. It becomes a duty. Just as a parent generally does not forget to go to work to make money to buy food for the children, so it is far easier to remember to be present when you know that it is your duty to others.
This week’s reading describes various clothing worn by the Kohanim- the priests- the spiritual leadership in the community. The High Priest had to wear a special head piece- a gold platelet which bore the Divine Name. It says, “V’hayah al mitzkho tamid- and it shall be on his forehead always.” The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) comments- “…that he should never divert his attention from it.” In other words, he must remain constantly mindful of the Divine.
It’s very clever that the symbol of the Divine, the engraved name, is on his forehead- so close to his eyes, yet impossible to see! That is exactly what deveikus, or awareness’ awareness of awareness, is like. You can’t see it because it is the seeing itself. The awareness looking through your eyes in this moment is the waking up of Existence through your body/mind. That awareness tends to fall into the dream of thinking, “I am this body-mind. I am so-and-so”. But in becoming aware of awareness, you can drop the sense of “I” as separate. The awareness is not “yours” really- it is G-d’s. It is Existence. Than you can truly know, “I AM MR. ED!”
As it says in the beginning of the parshah, “…Tetzaveh et b’nai Yisrael v’yik’hu elekha shemen… Command the children of Israel to take to yourself oil… to kindle a lamp constantly… outside the EDut- the tablets of witness”.
The lamp is your awareness. The oil is the fuel- your consciousness. The “Edut”or “tablets of witness” are your inner witnessing. These are three aspects of the same thing: consciousness becoming aware of itself as the witness- awareness’s awareness of awareness.
How do you do it?
Tetzaveh- command it! Just to have the intention is already to do it.
This Shabbos may we all grow in our awareness of the One Reality, the One Being. May that Light shine from our eyes, our words and our deeds, not just for our own sake but for the sake of serving each other in love.